Population Control – Is Anyone Willing to Talk About It?
Scott Cooney of Red, Green, and Blue recently wrote a thought provoking post about the need for population control as a fundamental and necessary tool to deal with a wide range of environmental crises. He refers to population control as the elephant in the room when it comes to policymakers. This is certainly an apt description of the issue, and it may even be considered an understatement. I would go so far as to say that population control is regarded as political suicide and a topic that is seemingly avoided at all costs.
Even though the rapid growth of the human population is such an obvious concern, very few people outside of the academic world and some dedicated NGOs are willing to discuss the issue. The earth’s population is projected to rise an astonishing 40% to 9.2 billion people by 2050! This level of increase will put tremendous strain on a wide range of already-stressed resources, including food stocks, fresh water, precious metals, and of course fossil fuels.
So why are policymakers so reluctant to approach this issue? The problem is that population growth is seen to be inextricably tied to economic growth. Does anyone know of a politician or governing party in a major industrialized nation that has tried to implement population control policies specifically because of the impact on the earth? Population growth represents prosperity and desirability, while population losses conjure up visions of boarded up buildings on Main Street and Rust Belt decline.
Surprisingly it is not just the politicians that are avoiding this can of worms. Even the activists stay away from it. David Suzuki, one of the most beloved and revered environmental spokesmen in Canada, is refusing to address the issue in an official capacity. A good friend of mine met Dr. Suzuki at a book signing a few years ago just before he was traveling to China to meet his new adopted daughter. My friend wanted Suzuki to sign the book to his new daughter and mentioned the upcoming adoption during the signing. Instead of congratulations, what he received from Suzuki was an insensitive (although arguably valid) diatribe about the irresponsibility of bringing a child from a low-consumer country (China) to a high-consumer country (Canada). Obviously Suzuki recognizes that population is a critical issue, but when reporter Hans Tammemagi asked the David Suzuki Foundation why they don’t include the population issue in their programs he was told “We only deal with Canada, and it has a small population”.
Even though slowed or negative population growth makes sense from a resource and environmental perspective, we need to be realists about how we approach the issue. If population control goes too far there will not be enough working-age people to support the social safety nets and tax base that is required to maintain a functional and productive society. This has been a problem in certain European countries that are experiencing negative growth rates, aging populations, and inverse population pyramids.
It is obvious that there are a lot of questions to be asked about population control.
What is the optimal population level to ensure that society can continue to provide fundamental services to its citizens but will not exhaust the finite resources of the earth?
Where do developing nations fit into the issue of population control? Much of this post has discussed the issue from the perspective of industrialized nations. Devleoping countries have much higher rates of population growth but they also have lower per-capita resource consumption rates and higher infant mortality rates.
One thing is for certain – it is frustrating to try to find the answers to these questions when nobody seems to want to talk about the problem.
Stephen Boles is co-founder of Kuzuka, a marketplace website that will bring a new level of convenience and confidence to carbon offset customers. Kuzuka also provides consulting services to organizations that want to assess and reduce their corporate carbon footprint.